When Women Were Dragons: A Novel (Hardcover)
May 2022 Indie Next List
“This story of an alternate 1950s America, in which rebellious women turn into dragons, is thrilling, subversive, and original. It’s filled with such poignant beauty that deserves to be savored with tissues nearby. Do not miss this one.”
— Gwen Papp, Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI
Alex Green is a young girl in a world much like ours, except for its most seminal event: the Mass Dragoning of 1955, when hundreds of thousands of ordinary wives and mothers sprouted wings, scales, and talons; left a trail of fiery destruction in their path; and took to the skies. Was it their choice? What will become of those left behind? Why did Alex’s beloved aunt Marla transform but her mother did not? Alex doesn’t know. It’s taboo to speak of.
Forced into silence, Alex nevertheless must face the consequences of this astonishing event: a mother more protective than ever; an absentee father; the upsetting insistence that her aunt never even existed; and
watching her beloved cousin Bea become dangerously obsessed with the forbidden.
In this timely and timeless speculative novel, award-winning author Kelly Barnhill boldly explores rage, memory, and the tyranny of forced limitations. When Women Were Dragons exposes a world that wants to keep women small—their lives and their prospects—and examines what happens when they rise en masse and take up the space they deserve.
"Completely fierce, unmistakably feminist, and subversively funny, When Women Were Dragons brings the heat to misogyny with glorious imagination and talon-sharp prose. Check the skies tonight—you might just see your mother."
—Bonnie Garmus, author of Lessons in Chemistry
"Ferociously imagined, incandescent with feeling, this book is urgent and necessary and as exhilarating as a ride on dragonback."
—Lev Grossman, author of The Magicians Trilogy
"[A] riveting historical fantasy...What’s surprising about Barnhill’s rare foray into adult fiction is its subversiveness and feminist rage. It’s a powerful, searing novel that feels deeply true, despite its magical premise."
"Kelly Barnhill’s poetic, pointed tale tackles the era’s pervasive silence concerning all things female."
—Christian Science Monitor
"Kelly Barnhill couldn’t have realized when she wrote When Women Were Dragons how prescient it would be when it went on sale this month...Barnhill’s prose is gorgeous and powerful."
—The St. Paul Pioneer Press
"A complex, heartfelt story about following your heart and opening your mind to new possibilities. This novel’s magic goes far beyond the dragons."
—Kirkus (starred review)
"A deeply felt exploration of feminism in an alternate fantastical history...This allegory packs a punch."
"Barnhill’s sharp and lyrical prose showcases the joys and agonies of female power in this coming-of-age/alternate history."
"If much of the novel feels like a full-throated howl, an indictment of a system of gender apartheid, an alchemy occurs in the final chapters . . . Kelly Barnhill reimagines a world where women face 1950s-style constraints, and find a path out."
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Exquisite . . . [A] soaring coming-of-age novel.”
—The Observer (UK)